Legendary anchor Tom Brokaw has been accused of groping, assaulting and sexual harassing a former colleague at NBC News — allegations he has denied.
In interviews with Variety and the Washington Post published on Thursday, Linda Vester, a former correspondent for the network, said the longtime face of “NBC Nightly News” made repeated unwanted sexual advances on her, allegations she did not publicly voice until now out of fear of reprisals for speaking out.
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The reports revive questions about the culture at NBC, which faced questions last year after the ouster of longtime “TODAY” show host Matt Lauer amid allegations of sexual misconduct.
Vester said in a video interview that she was “groped and assaulted” by Brokaw, who retired as anchor and managing editor of “NBC Nightly News” in 2004 following a 22-year run at the program.
Vester said that in two occasions in the early to mid-1990s Brokaw forcibly tried to make her kiss him. The former NBC News correspondent, who was 28 at the time of the alleged incidents, told Variety in multiple interviews over several months that the star anchor also groped her in an NBC conference room and visited her at her hotel room uninvited. She also said Brokaw tickled her in a “physically unpleasant and humiliating” manner in front of colleagues.
The former NBC correspondent said she did not report the incidents to the police or the HR department at NBC News out of fear for retaliation from the star anchor.
“I felt trapped because it wasn’t a request, it was more of an order,” Vester said of the hotel incident in 1994 during the video interview. “I felt like this man could destroy my career so if he said he’s coming over I have to let him come over. He’s the most important man at NBC News. I was terrified.”
She added: “I struggled to think of how I could signal him to go away without offending or angering the single most powerful man at the network.”
In a statement provided to Variety through a network spokesman, the retired anchor denied making unwanted sexual advances on Vester.
“I met with Linda Vester on two occasions, both at her request, 23 years ago because she wanted advice with respect to her career at NBC,” Brokaw said. “The meetings were brief, cordial and appropriate, and despite Linda’s allegations, I made no romantic overtures towards her at that time or any other.”
Andy Lack, chairman of NBC News, told staffers at NBC and MSNBC on Friday that the network took the allegations against Brokaw “very seriously,“ vowing to take action if deemed appropriate.
“As you have all seen now in reports from last night, there are allegations against Tom Brokaw, made by a former NBC News journalist, which Tom emphatically denies,“ Lack said, according to memo forwarded by a network spokesperson. “As we’ve shown, we take allegations such as these very seriously, and act on them quickly and decisively when the facts dictate.“
In excerpts of her conversations with Variety, Vester said she did not speak out about Brokaw’s alleged sexual misconduct out of fear it would “torpedo” her future at the network, which she said had a culture that lulled women into not voicing such claims.
“There was a culture at NBC News, in my experience, where women who raise questions about misconduct get labeled as troublemakers,” she said. “It can torpedo your career. I already knew that, so I didn’t want to make any trouble. I had just been hired full-time, and I wanted to be able to do my job. I did my best to collect myself and get on with my work.”
Brokaw is the latest prominent male anchor to face allegations of sexual misconduct unearthed amid the #MeToo movement.
Lauer, another one of NBC’s leading men, was dismissed in November after facing numerous allegations of sexual misconduct. Several women reportedly said fell on deaf ears with the executives at the network. The incidents have raised questions about NBC’s handling of sexual misconduct allegations.
After Lauer’s firing, Lack told staff in a memo the network would conduct a “culture assessment” in response to the revelations. But NBC News did not hire an independent investigator to look into the matter, a step Vester told Variety was needed to confront the issue.
Lack on Friday told staffers that the internal investigation on Lauer “is nearing its conclusion.”
“As you know, since the week we terminated Matt’s employment, NBC Universal has been conducting a review, led by general counsel Kim Harris — who has extensive experience in conducting reviews of this kind — with a team of legal and HR leaders,“ he wrote in the memo. “Kim has advised us that the review is nearing its conclusion, and we will have findings and further steps to share with you as soon as next week.“
The remarks come a day after the Post report raised questions about the network‘s track record of dealing with sexual misconduct claims.